Make Yourselves GodsMormons and the Unfinished Business of American Secularism

Make Yourselves GodsMormons and the Unfinished Business of American Secularism

Peter Coviello

Print publication date: 2020

ISBN: 9780226474168

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

For many of their contemporaries, the nineteenth-century Mormons were the victims of a peculiar kind of zealotry: theirs was the story of a population deranged--socially, sexually, even racially--by the extravagances of belief they chose to name “religion.” This book offers a counterhistory of early Mormonism, tracking the Latter-day Saints from the period of their emergence as a dissident sect, fired by a heterodox and scandalizing carnal imagination, through to their renunciation of polygamy at century’s end. Over these unruly decades, the Mormons would appear by turns as heretics, sex-radicals, “Mohammedan” tyrants, refugees, colonizers, and, eventually, as reluctant monogamists, enfranchised at last into the secular nation and its empire of white settlers. Reading Mormonism across these registers, the book fashions a synthesizing critical idiom that uses religious history, Native Studies, political theology, and queer critique to tell a new story about secularism as a regulatory, disciplinary, and racializing metaphysics: about, that is, the biopolitics of secularism. It argues that, in the eyes of their countrymen, the Mormons were a people who persistently failed at being secular--whose beliefs were understood to have depraved them, and whose marriage-defiling depravity made them dubious white people--and were disciplined, at high and violent cost, into becoming so. It offers a story of orthodoxy, citizenship, and the fate of the flesh in a secularizing nineteenth-century America.